GET THE PARTY STARTED
Punch is a fun, budget-conscious drink for any summer party. Most punches, well, pack a punch, so a little goes a long way. Aside from alcohol, punch recipes typically call for inexpensive ingredients such as citrus, sugar, and water or tea. A self-serve communal punch bowl demands far less prep and cleanup than individual cocktails and very little attendance, apart from an occasional top-off with ice (use one large piece, or the largest pieces possible, for a steady chill and dilution). For those who don't already own them, a punch bowl, ladle, and cups can be found in most secondhand shops, likely for between $5 and $20 for a full set. The following punches are full of flavor and easy on the wallet -- try one at your next summer soirée.
This refreshing punch has just a touch of sweetness from peach brandy. Bright lemon cuts through summer humidity and carbonation lightens everything up. Serve white sangria during afternoon garden parties or at cocktail hour on a hot summer night. Combine one-half cup lemon juice plus the peels with 1 cup peach brandy, 1.5 cups dry white wine, and halved green grapes. Add 2 cups club soda or sparkling wine and ice before serving.
QUICK PINEAPPLE PUNCH
This tasty mix is just as good without the booze (well, almost!). Combine one-half cup lime juice plus peels, one-half cup simple syrup, 1.5 cups tequila, and 2 cups pineapple juice. Pineapple juice has a lot of natural sweetness, so feel free to cut out the simple syrup entirely or use half the amount and adjust before serving. Rim the glasses with chili salt to give this punch a savory dimension that complements spicy food. Add ice before serving.
FRUITY RUM PUNCH
This tropical treat is a go-to summer drink, full of bright fruit juices balanced by Angostura bitters. Combine one-half cup lime juice plus peels, 1 cup orange juice, 1.5 cups Caribbean rum, 2 cups pineapple juice, and 20 dashes Angostura bitters. Add ice before serving and keep the bottle of bitters next to the punch bowl, so guests can add more to their drink as desired.
Turn this Mexican favorite into a crowd pleaser with minimal effort. Rim glasses with salt and set aside. Combine one-half cup lime juice plus peels with 1.5 cups tequila. Add 3 cups grapefruit soda and ice before serving. Consider making a batch twice during a get-together to ensure the carbonation is fresh.
REFRESHING HERBAL PUNCH
Herbs add flavor without being heavy, which is ideal during the hot summer months. The savory herbal flavor of elderflower liqueur makes this subtly sweet blend highly aromatic. Any herb works in this recipe, but basil, thyme, lemon balm, mint, sage, and tarragon are especially good. Combine one-half cup lemon juice plus peels, 1 cup elderflower liqueur (such as St. Germain), 1.5 cups gin, and three sprigs each of thyme, rosemary, mint. Add 2 cups club soda and ice before serving.
SPICY MANGO PUNCH
The balance of sweet, tart, and spicy in this punch is rich enough to pair with flavorful foods such as barbecue. To make habanero-infused simple syrup, add a quarter of a habanero to simple sugar as it simmers (don't forget to wear gloves when handling the habanero!). Keep the pepper in the syrup until ready to use, then discard. Combine 1 cup with one-half cup lime juice, 1.5 cups tequila, and 2 cups unsweetened mango purée. Add ice before serving.
TEA AND RUM PUNCH
This riff on a classic is highly versatile. Caribbean rum and black tea is most traditional, but party hosts can customize the recipe with different types of rum and tea. Remember to make the tea well in advance so that it is cool when mixing the punch. Combine 1.5 cups rum and 2 cups strong tea with one-half cup lime juice plus peels and 1 cup simple syrup. Add ice before serving. Keep nutmeg and a small grater next to the cups to allow guests to grate their own for each serving.
THREE CITRUS PUNCH
This bright, citrusy punch is a nice change from the expected mimosas during brunch parties. Combine one-half cup lemon juice, 1 cup orange liqueur, 1.5 cups citron vodka, and 1 cup orange juice. Add 1 cup club soda and ice before serving, and garnish with thinly sliced orange, grapefruit, and lemon. The sliced fruit creates a beautiful presentation for a special occasion.
GINGER LIME PUNCH
This spicy take on punch is bold enough to stand up to flavorful food, such as summer meals featuring hot chilies and tangy marinades. White tea can be subtle, so make an extra-strong batch by doubling the number of tea bags that would normally be required. Combine one-half cup lime juice plus peels, 1 cup honey syrup (equal parts honey and water), 1.5 cups white rum, 2 cups white tea, and 3 tablespoons crushed fresh ginger. If rum isn't a spirit of choice, substitute vodka. Add ice before serving.
CINNAMON ORANGE PUNCH
The warm and spicy flavors of this drink are ideally suited to Moroccan or Middle Eastern cuisine or chocolatey desserts. The base spirit is a liqueur, making this punch lighter in alcohol than typical mixtures. To bring it up to regular strength, add 1 cup of citron vodka or reposado tequila. Combine one-half cup lemon juice plus peels, 1 cup simple syrup, 1.5 cups orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier), and 2 cups strong cinnamon tea. Add ice before serving.
MINTY LIME PUNCH
Mint is the key to making this punch-size take on a mojito ultra-refreshing. The flavors are versatile enough to work with almost any base spirit, in addition to the traditional rum. Combine one-half cup lime juice plus peels, 1 cup simple syrup, 1.5 cups rum, and 20 sprigs mint, lightly macerated. Add 2 cups club soda and ice before serving.
BOURBON PEACH PUNCH
This Southern-themed quencher is a strong concoction best served alongside sweet and spicy barbecue ribs. Combine one-half cup lemon juice plus peels, 1 cup simple syrup, 1.5 cups bourbon, 1 cup peach nectar, 1 cup cold water, and a thinly sliced peach. For guests who prefer high-proof drinks, substitute peach brandy for the simple syrup. Add ice before serving.
BLUEBERRY VANILLA BOURBON PUNCH
This potent brew makes great use of one of summer's most prized crops. The vanilla notes are echoed in the bourbon and work surprisingly well with muddled blueberries. Combine one-half cup lemon juice plus peels, one-half cup smashed blueberries, 1 cup simple syrup, 1.5 cups bourbon, 2 cups strong black tea, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and one-half cup whole blueberries. Let the blueberries macerate with the lemon for an extra half hour for enhanced flavor. Add ice before serving.
GIN AND TONIC PUNCH
Turn a favorite cocktail into a punch with a spicy black pepper kick. Since the tonic already has some sweetness, skip the simple syrup entirely or use just half of what a traditional punch recipe calls for. Combine one-half cup lime juice plus peels, one-half cup simple syrup, and 1.5 cups gin. Add 2 cups tonic water and ice before serving. Grind a small amount of coarse black pepper on the top of the bowl. Keep a pepper grinder next to the punch bowl to allow guests to freshly crack the peppercorns onto their drinks.